Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation for Grundy County Monday after a massive fire at an industrial building housing hundreds of thousands of pounds of lithium ion batteries released plumes of smoke and poisonous fumes into the air.
The disaster proclamation grants officials the ability to expedite state resources, personnel and equipment, as well as allows for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to provide additional aid.
“Protecting the health and safety of every resident in Illinois is a top priority for my administration and this disaster proclamation will allow us to provide the full scale of support and tools needed for Grundy County,” Pritzker said.
Residents were able to return to their homes once again after 4 p.m. Friday, officials said during an update earlier that day.
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The order was put in place by the Grundy County IL Emergency Management Agency, which ordered anyone in the 900 blocks of Benton, Douglas or Armstrong streets as well as those who live on East Street to evacuate their residence.
Residents who were ordered to evacuate were "not eligible to return home," a spokeswoman for the Will County Emergency Management Agency said early Wednesday, noting that a shelter had been established for residents and pets.
The fire broke out at around 12 p.m. last Tuesday in the 900 block of East Benton Street, at a facility where up to 200,000 pounds of lithium ion batteries were stored.
Firefighters battling the blaze had to take up defensive positions, unable to put water on the fire because of the batteries’ potential to ignite and explode when contacted by water.
Officials said those burning batteries released poisonous gases, which forced the evacuation of homes downwind of the building.
Volunteers from the Red Cross provided food and water to more than 300 emergency personnel who are battling the blaze. The Grundy County Administration Center was also transformed into an evacuation center for residents in need.
Residents said the call to evacuate came quickly, with little time to grab anything but bare essentials and loved ones.
“They told us to get out of the house and to get out of the area without notice,” Reno Harrawood said.
“The police knocked on our door and told us we had to evacuate,” Cameron added.
The Red Cross and Grundy County officials said shelters will be available for as long as the need remains.
There have been no injuries reported in connection with the fire, with Morris officials crediting resources brought in from nearby Rockton, where they had been battling a recent chemical plant fire in that community.